The father of the artist, Adolphe Deshayes, took part in the siege of Constantine on October 10, 1837, where he was seriously wounded. He was transferred to the service in the administrative government of Algiers. It was in that city that he was married.
His son, Eugene Deshayes was born in the Mustapha Hospital, and was a fragile child. He was unenthusiastic about his studies at the Lycée d’Alger. Only drawing seemed to interest him. His parents died when he was young, and his older brother, a doctor at the Douera Hospital, raised him.
At eighteen, he entered the National School of Fine Arts of Algiers, directed at that time by Emile Charles Labbé, a Barbizon School landscape painter. He made friends with an enlightened art enthusiast, Charles Jourdan, who had a magnificent property in Algiers where Eugene would go to paint. It was there that he met Jules Bastien Lepage, who was visiting Algiers because of failing health.
Deshayes earned a scholarship to study in Paris in May of 1885. He shared a room on the Rue de Seine with the Algerian painter Bertrand. A regular student at Gerome’s studio in the Ecole de Beaux Arts, the master held the young Deshayes in special esteem. During working hours he would copy paintings in the Louvre and paint from nature in the Parc Monceau and at Versailles.
The press lauded his return to Algiers in 1890, and he quickly assembled exhibitions of his Parisian works at the Dru Gallery on the Rue d’Isly. He continued to exhibit yearly at Paris’ Salon des Artistes Français, and he set up his studio in Mustapha-Superieur in the old workshop of Madame Luce Ben Aben. In 1897, he returned to Paris for two years and traveled throughout France.
The thought of the sea drew him to work on board a ship, where he studied the Mediterranean flora and fauna and painted the ports and docks of the coastal cities. However, nothing was more natural for this painter than to be attracted to the magnificent scenes of the south of Algeria. Until 1928, the date of his last expedition, he would wander the vast Sahara, traveling with caravans, sleeping in tents, surviving when necessary on biscuits and warm water, integrating himself bit by bit into the indigenous life of the desert, studying their customs and habits, and discovering what the hurried traveler could never come to learn.
In February of 1902, the governor general of Algeria sent Deshayes on a mission to Southern Oran. At Saïda, the artist joined up with a detachment of the French Foreign Legion, with whom he traveled, gathering together an extensive record of the region in ink and paint. The expedition took him through Morocco and Tunisia as well, both offering beautiful subjects for his canvases.
Deshayes regularly exhibited his works in Algiers, Annaba, Oran, Constantine, Tunis, Paris, Arras, and Marseille, as well as in England, Germany, Spain, and America.
Like many of his colleagues, Deshayes received several official commissions. In 1900, he painted a canvas for the grand dining room of the Summer Palace. The same year, he painted one of the fourteen decorative panels for the Algerian Pavilion at the World’s Fair. He also received several awards and honors. In 1923, Admiral Thomine appointed him as the official painter of the French Navy. In 1935, he was awarded the cross of a chevalier of the Legion of Honor. At the World’s Fair of 1937, he received a gold medal for his View of Ténès.
On September 2, 1939, Deshayes was laid to rest, by his own request, in the small romantic Tipasa cemetery. Mayor Rozis of Algiers proposed to the city council in 1941 that the Eue de l’Industrie be renamed “Rue Eugène Deshayes” to keep the artist’s memory alive.
Official painter of the French Navy, 1923
Cross of a chevalier, Legion of Honor, 1935
Gold medal, World's Fair, 1937
Dru Gallery, 1890
Salon des Artistes Français